Interview by Dana Jacoviello
Many of us hear of heartbreaking stories of LGBTQ youth being thrown out of their homes and left homeless on the streets. In fact, there is a good portion of homeless youth due to this epidemic. Even as adults, the LGBTQ community is still struggling with acceptance and human rights as we see every day on the news and social media. There are a plethora of stories that we read on a regular basis. It occurs far too much. The hatred is rampant, whether it be fear people use or their religion, it passes judgement on another that nobody has a right to do. It is not our job to do so.
Love is about acceptance and unconditional emotions. It is easy to preach, but how many of us actually walk to talk? The truth is, many might say they are an ally, but they still feel uncomfortable. Though we have made several worldwide strides in this arena, the fight is far from over. There is still much work to be done with us uniting and working together.
I see my very large group of LGBTQ friends as human beings. I do not see them as labels. I think that is part of the issue. We are constantly labeling each other. Let’s just be people. Let’s just be our authentic selves. It is not about a group we belong to. We already know we are all different. Diversity is a beautiful thing. That is what makes our world so amazing. If we were all the same, it would be pretty damn boring.
It is people and parents like Mara that create change when they share their stories and put in the effort. It starts in the home, and if you can provide that love and kindness in the home, it transcends out into the world through not only yourself, but your children. We have to stop creating more angered and hateful people. We are to blame for that, as people are not born to hate or born evil. It is a learned behavior.
Being a true ally is standing up for what you believe in, speaking out, getting involved, and making a difference. The question always remains, are we working towards making it better by doing our part?
Do not fear the unknown because you do not understand it. We go to school to learn, so educate yourself. Learn by opening your heart to people and not what they represent. Not everybody has to agree. Not everybody has to be the same religion or race. Why does that mean we are not able to all coexist as human beings with the same rights we should all have without exclusions?
Mara is one of those beautiful human beings that is not only part of the community, but an ally. I had a nice chat with Mara, and she has some wise words and a story and her vision of a world that we should all strive to create and want to live in.
Dana Jacoviello: Now I know that you are a mom of a gay son, whom you adore, support, and love very much. It is obvious why the cause of equality is so important to you. Has your son dealt with bullying and hate since coming out or even before that?
Mara O’Maude: Thank you, Dana, for taking the time to connect with me and talk about this:
In answer to this first question, oddly enough my kiddo, H., didn’t face much in the way of bullying after he came out. It was before he emerged that he was targeted and treated poorly. But, I don’t think I can remember a time when that particular bullying was about his orientation. Mostly just kids being mean to him because he would rise to their bait. Bullies use people’s vulnerabilities against them, as you well know, and my sons vulnerabilities have always been justice and fairness. Those two things would not allow him to just let bullies get away with their targeting. However, after he came out he was met with all kinds of connected support from teachers and his peers. And in truth, there are only a few times that I can recall him facing bullying, either overt or covert, from people in our friend and family circles. One was a man who was, at the time, married to a good friend of mine. We were at dinner and this man started telling my son things like, ‘”Well, you’re young. You don’t really know who you are yet. I bet you’re not gay, just confused. Give it time. I bet you end up straight.” Before I could say anything, intercede, H. said, “Yeah, no. I can see you are thinking this is a nice thing to say, an encouraging thing. But, it’s not. I know myself. I’m good. And I am gay.” My friend’s husband started to say something else and I looked at him with my eyebrow up to my hairline and shook my head. He kept his opinions to himself from then on. I think my son handled that really well. He learned, from the bullying he experienced as a little kid, that it’s best to either speak truth to them, ignore them, or just walk away. Mostly he just walks away.
As he’s just graduated high school, and is starting college in the fall, I have concerns about his safety. I worry, because right now is a very volatile time for the LGBT community. For every advance we have made, marriage equality, adoption rights, and so on, we have incidents like the Pulse shootings that seem to both embolden the bigots and make us afraid again. However, I was so very encouraged by Pride this year. It feels like we are seeing an advancement for LGBT rights and societal acceptance that may be more than just a temporary thing. This is also a reason why my son and I are both supporting Hillary Clinton in November. But, that’s another interview entirely!
DJ: I know you are someone who is not afraid to speak out or stand up for bullying, hate, and what you believe in. Have you ever gone through bullying or hate yourself on or offline for being the mother of a gay son, an ally, or friend of the community?
MM: Funny you should ask. In the aftermath of Orlando I was thinking back on when I was in high school, back in the 80’s, and an awful experience I had. I was jumped by a girl who was somehow offended that I am bi-sexual. She flipped out. She beat me so badly that I had a potato sized goose egg on the back of my head. And if it weren’t for the man who jumped out of his car as he passed us on the street, who pulled her off of me, I doubt I’d be here now. She was in a blind rage. He got her off of me and I fled. Incidentally, the school and the district agreed to let me handle her punishment (she was suspended until I returned, too). So, after my wounds had healed, I had an opportunity to face my attacker and give her the what for.
When the principal called us in he had us sit side by side. I turned my chair to face her, straight on. And then I was asked if I preferred who went first, me or her. I said, “Me…” and then I let her have it. I raised my voice, just enough to grab her attention in the tiny office, and I told her that she wasn’t the only one who hated me. But, that she was the only one to beat me up. That I had been pushed, shoved into lockers, spit on, called names, and worse, but that she was the only one to take it that far. I grabbed her hand and made her feel the goose egg on the back of my head and the scabs from the bloody wounds, and then I told her to look at my face, because she was looking down the whole time. I told her that I had told them to not expel her, to not suspend her, to let her have the punishment of having to watch my bruises heal. To have her be at school and see the sympathy for me, and the anger toward her. And then I forgave her. I told her I would never speak to her again, but that I forgave her.
And you know what? At the ten-year reunion, that same girl, by then a woman of 28, came to the party with her long time girlfriend. Honestly, I feel that the saying about those who are loudest about their aversion to LGBT community and rights for us, trend toward being in the closet and act that way out of self loathing. I wish that everyone felt free and safe to be whom they are. It just hurts my heart to see people struggle in that way. I wish that everyone had the same type of support I did as a teen and that my son has now. I’m also really glad that girl didn’t have access to a gun.
DJ: How old was your son when he first came out to you and what was your first reaction?
MM: H. was 13 when he told me. But, I have always known. A mother knows. I used to joke, back when he was little, that I needed a ‘I love my gay son!’ tee from PFLAG. So, when he finally sorted it out for himself, I was actually really happy. He did it in the cutest way ever, by the way. We were driving with his best friend, T., and out of nowhere he said, “Mom, you have a better chance of having a son-in-law than a daughter-in-law…” I just nodded and said, “I know.” Then his buddy, a big old jock who is a majorly girl crazy straight guy, leaned forward from the back seat and said, “Dude, if I was into guys, I’d totally marry you.” And that was that. It was, all told, very anti-climactic.
My son doesn’t get why people even have to come out anyway. I truly think this is part of this new generation of LGBT youth. They mostly realize that who they are isn’t really a big deal and doesn’t need to be ceremoniously announced. I mean yes, Pride is vital, because until we are free of hate crimes and bigotry, there will always be a need for community support and rallying. Even all these years after Harvey Milk being murdered, even after the closet doors were broken off at the hinges for so many, we still have people living in fear of being their true selves. So until we are all free to be, there will be a need for support and activism. But, these kids coming up now are more confident in who they are, and I am so proud of them for that. Especially my son.
DJ: Do you fear for your son to be in clubs and other venues after the horrifying attack in Orlando, or do you still encourage him to not fear who he is or hide?
MM: I won’t lie, after Orlando we both were in deep shock. Still are. But, these past weeks, watching from our small town, all the Pride parades around the world, we are both feeling like the community is showing up stronger in the face of this nightmare. H. watched the parade videos from NYC this last weekend, and the festivities in SF, and was so glad that people didn’t let fear choose for them. That the strength in numbers idea is strong with our community. LGBT people are tough. We have faced so many varied adverse situations, and we are resilient and strong. I’ve been listening to him talk with his friends, all of whom know he’s gay, and only one other kid he knows is, too. They are all really supportive and also angry that this happened. They see it for the hate crime it was.
I really think that the LGBT community will take what has happened and make lasting change come from the pain. I seriously doubt the NRA knows what kind of wall of activism comes from an attack on us. And no matter what, we will always go to clubs, because we will always need each other and the freedom of dancing and celebrating. Honestly, I can’t wait to take my son dancing. I love going to gay clubs. They are their own special brand of fabulous and wonderful. We won’t shy from it. Ever.
DJ: In knowing you as a very loyal supporter and friend to BKO, you are very supportive of your son. How does it make you feel when you hear of or see other parents who are not? What goes through your mind?
MM: A few years ago one of H.’s friends came out to his mother. She lost it. She beat him. She kicked him out of her house. She took to social media to beg for help, and stated that she didn’t know where she had gone wrong. I wrote back to her and said one thing, “You went wrong in not just accepting your son.” That’s where she lost it. Screaming over the phone about how he was dead to her and how she would never speak to him again. Once she was calm, I asked her why. She then had to sit there and tell me that it was fear. She was afraid for him. So, I then counseled her to first go find her son (he was 14 at the time and on the streets alone), bring him home, and beg his forgiveness. She was sobbing. I told her that he needed her, not her rage. Then I told her to delete her posts about God hating gays, and to get her head together. A few days later, her son came to school and asked my son if they could talk. He took H. aside and said, “Whatever your mom did, thank her for me.” And while his life isn’t filled with perfect acceptance, his mother is no longer hostile and un-supportive. So I think that’s a win, in a way.
Thing is, for every kid that is accepted by his or her parents, there are five, six, or ten that are bullied, beaten, or disowned. And I can’t understand that. At all. It just breaks my heart that the preponderance of homeless youth are LGBT. I’ve taken kids in and helped them cope with hostile parents so many times. That instance I just told you about isn’t rare. I’ve done that a few times. Even gone so far as to go pick up a friend of H.’s and bring them here when a parent is off the rails angry about their orientation. I want kids to be loved for who they are, whole total, not just some weird conditional thing. We, as parents, have an obligation to be 100% behind our kids as they navigate the wavy sea of the world. It’s tough enough to just grow up, so I can’t understand anything less than positive regard for ones babies. I really can’t.
DJ: Is there anybody in your family that gives you or your son a hard time, or are they all collectively a supportive bunch?
MM: With the exception of my friends now ex-husband, no one has been anything less than accepting. We don’t have any biological family now that my mom is gone (she passed in 2010), but most everyone knows that H. is gay, and no one bats an eye. I suppose that’s due in part to the fact that I am the B in LGBT, and my father was the G (he passed in 1996). So for us, for our friendship circle, it’s a non issue. People just sort of roll with it. My moms best friend, who I am named for, when H. came out to her, said, “Oh, good!! Just like your grandfather!” And my mother’s mentor, a lovely woman who passed last January, said the same thing. He’s been really lucky. I wish that everyone had this same experience.
DJ: What are some of the things you feel parents and others can do to help our youth and young adults in coming out or being accepted as equals?
MM: Oh, Dana, I wish I had a simple answer. Honestly? I think that if everyone could have a coming out like my sons the world would be a better place. The casual acceptance of this very real facet of our kids and friends, our mothers and fathers, our people, would bring about so much peace. I have never understood the hate. It’s always baffled me. My father’s mother disowned him when he came out in 1970. And then, from that day, she blamed me and my mom for ‘triggering’ his gayness. Um, no. Sorry. He was gay, he was afraid of being out. It was the 60’s, and she, his mother, was awful to him for being in any way flamboyant. So, he married my mom in 1965 and had me to try to avoid his real self. I was 2 when he finally admitted to himself, my mom, and both of their parents, that he was gay. While his own mother turned on him, my mothers parents (hardcore Baptist Christians) supported and accepted him without reservation. It was my grandfather, my mom’s dad that paid for his moving to NYC to go to Julliard, actually. They were so eager to see him happy, and my mom and dad stayed close for the rest of his life.
Dana, I pray so hard that the world softens and that people let the notion that being LGBT is a bad thing go. We need to be kinder. People just need to be kinder and let love be love. I guess that’s my super simple answer. Just for parents to accept and embrace their kids, and to just be present. That’s all anyone ever wants. To be accepted and loved. And these kids, they need those things to thrive. As do we all.
DJ: What is some motherly advice you can provide to those out there that might be struggling or even in the streets by their homophobic parents or relatives?
MM: Oh wow… first of all, I have to say that I want to kiss and hug Cyndi Lauper for her work on this front. Her ‘True Colors’ shelter is an amazing thing. There needs to be one in every city, or at least until there are no more homeless LGBT youth. But, until that time comes, I suppose I would say to them: I can imagine that things are scary right now, but, you will find your people. Be strong in the knowledge that even if your parents have rejected you, there are a million other people out there in the world who will accept and love you as you are. I know that it can be frightening, especially if you are suddenly on your own. That if you are shown that it’s bad to be who you are, that the world can feel like a hostile place. But, I promise you, there are people in the world who will embrace you and make you part of their logical family. The term “logical family” was made up by the wonderful writer Armistead Maupin. His books ‘Tales of the City’ changed my life, and it can be a good model for you to seek your logical family as you move forward in yours. Do not lose hope, promise me you will stay safe, and be loving to yourself. I’m so sorry that you are struggling, and I wish I could just come give you a giant hug. Know that I am out here beaming love at you full force. I am confident that your life will emerge as a beautiful, wonderful thing. You are more than good enough, I promise and swear. I can tell you that you are wonderful! Never let anyone ever tell you differently.
DJ: Is there anything you would like to add?
MM: I just want to add that I am grateful for the work you do, Miss Dana. I think that you are a remarkable woman and are doing the most beautiful thing in turning your own past pain into a positive path forward. BKO is an amazing way to embody and promote the change you wish to see. You inspire me to be my best self.
I want to thank Mara for her time and all your undying loyal support to Bullies Keep Out